We received an email from a concerned Mother, worried that her chickens were being overly aggressive and had pecked her two year old child on the face.
This is an abridged version of my reply to her:
“Hens can become bothersome if they think free food is available, like all animals (including children for that matter!)
My first concern would be to ensure your children’s safety and comfort. Having hens should be a delight for children especially young ones, not frightening which I suspect has happened.
I fully support you wanting your hens to run freely especially having so much space must be heaven for them. However when having the hens loose upsets your peace of mind a compromise may have to be made.
If you don’t want them to bother you when outside you could try scattering some feed / corn at the top end of the acre away from where you are. They will be so busy pecking and scratching they should leave you alone.
I agree for what they are, pens are very expensive. There are several suggestions firstly do you know anyone who would knock a pen up in exchange for a home cooked meal and half a dozen fresh eggs? It’s amazing what you can get done with a little bartering amongst friends and neighbours.
The only other suggestion I have, is to get some chicken wire and posts or strong canes. Tie the wire to the posts, (string or cable ties work well) and drive them into the ground. Your hens will be more than happy scratching around in this makeshift pen. Especially if you scatter some feed inside. You can then move it around the garden so they aren’t scratching the one area.
Warning: If using canes make sure the ends are covered so no eye injuries can occur. Also ends of chicken wire can scratch so tuck them in for child and hen safety.
This can be used for when you want to be outside and not bothered by the hens. If you call them and use the same sounds whilst scattering food they soon learn to come when called and you can keep them all in one place.
Your children could get to know them then in safety when they are penned up without the worry of being pecked. Also be aware that truly free ranging hens are walking lunch for predators like fox and mink.
It is equally important to teach the children how to handle and work with the hens. If you’re also anxious about handling them a day course is an excellent way to gain confidence and ask questions. Many places run them including the British Hen Welfare Trust and Eglu. Some of them also run courses the whole family can go on together, even little ones but again costs will be involved.
I hope this has helped. Good luck and let me know how it goes.